From the Right



'The Cheech' is fitting legacy for Chicano trailblazer

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- Comedian, activist, and television/film star Richard Anthony Marin has spent the last 50 years looking for the humor in everyday life. But the COVID-19 crisis is no laughing matter. And talking about it brings the jokester to tears.

Even if you don't recognize the name that's on his birth certificate, you probably will key in on his nickname: "Cheech."

Think one half of the 1970's comedy and film duo, "Cheech & Chong." Big mustache. Holding an even bigger marijuana joint.

I've been a fan since childhood. Growing up as a Mexican American in Central California, I would overhear the eight-track tapes of "Cheech and Chong" playing on my parents' stereo. Long before I ever heard of Mexican American comedians like Paul Rodriguez, George Lopez, or Gabriel Iglesias, there was Cheech. He's a true veterano in the world of Latino entertainment.

Today, the 73-year-old is at work on what he sees as his "legacy" -- which doubles as a gift for future generations of Mexican Americans. Marin prefers "Chicano" -- a term almost exclusively used by Mexican American baby boomers who live in California.

I asked the funnyman why he thought the term still resonates.


"I think it's because they faced their problem and tried to solve it," he said. "They were being excluded, Chicanos in general, from every aspect of society. Even their own kind, other Mexican Americans, excluded them."

The legacy, and Cheech's central passion over the last few years, is what will eventually be known as The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry in Riverside, California -- about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Part of the Riverside Art Museum, and housed in the soon-to-be remodeled building that once served as the city's main library, the 61,420-square-foot facility will be the new permanent home for more than 700 pieces of Chicano art.

The items -- which include paintings, sculptures, photography and video arts -- come from Marin's personal collection. He has literally spent decades putting all this stuff together. The exhibits have spent the last few years touring the United States and drawing record crowds at local museums.

Set to open in Fall 2021, "The Cheech" -- as the comedian has dubbed his baby -- is being billed as the first major collection of Chicano art in the world. It will host lectures, forums, artists-in-residence, and various educational programs.


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